The Danube Plains, the Blue Pot, and Ülm

Tessa writing:
We have left the gorges and now pedal across farmland with a tail wind which makes reaching speeds of 25 kph effortless. In future I must remember to make an offering to the tail wind gods before setting out. Along the way we see a stork strutting across a hay field. I had noticed unkempt nests on top of chimneys in some of the villages we had cycled through so I am happy to see one of the nest denizens.

A merchant sign … note the stork nest.

We detour to visit the hanging gardens of Neufra. Babylon they are not. They have a pleasant view to the Danube but are unkempt and I think that the lady who has cared for them for many years is maybe past it or even dead.

Abbey of Obermarchtal.
The abbey church.
The ballroom.

Our next stop is at the Abbey of Obermarchtal which according to Wikipedia was a Premonstratensian (an order that accepted men and women) monastery. The Baroque church is huge with every surface caked with plaster bas relief and swirling bronze; its too much. Luckily though we meet the handyman who takes us to see the enormous (everything is large scale) ballroom whose walls and ceiling are adorned with frothy but beautifully rendered frescoes. Today the abbey is a school and no monks or nuns have lived there for 30 years.  We spend the night in a so-called farm inn … it is close by a busy major road.

Washing potatoes at the farm inn.
Net fishing in the Danube.
The deep Blautopf pool.
The weir, mill & tourist café at Blautopf.
An apfelstrudel to be shared

Its the last day of cycling. We opt to take a longer route via Blautopf and then to follow the river Blau into Ulm. Blautopf (Blue Pot) is a 22 meters deep, cerulean blue pool from which the river emanates. There are apparently many legends associated with the pool the best known being about a nymph who rediscovered her laugh on seeing the blue waters. And so, not quite laughing but definitely smiling about completing an 800 km ride, we swoosh gently downhill into Ulm and to our hotel in the Fischerviertal, the Fishermen’s Quarter.

Ulm Cathedral.
The famous spire.
The crooked house around the corner from our hotel.
New houses in an old style.
City Hall with its Zodiac clock.
Closeup of Zodiac clock.
Its strawberry & spargle (white asparagus) season. Farmers’ market in front of the cathedral.
The sparrow is the symbol of Ulm … there are sculptures of them (and real ones) everywhere.

Over 80% of the medieval buildings in Ulm were destroyed by Allied bombing raids in WWII but those that remain have been restored and the empty spaces rebuilt with houses that respect the past. Over all, Ulm is a pleasant melange of old and new architecture, open squares, pedestrian and bicycle-only streets, parks and river banks lined with restaurants and gingerbread houses. Its most famous building is the gothic cathedral whose 161 meter high spire is the tallest of any church in Europe. David writes about our departure for Magagnosc from Ulm so I will conclude this part of the blog with a few observations about the trip.

We were blessed with good weather even if a bit hot and humid at times and so felt there was no need to take trains. After last year’s experience of 80 kms days I was relieved that our average for this trip was around 60 km. It meant that we were not “unable to do anything except eat and fall into bed” tired at the end of the day.

I personally loved riding through the varied countryside on bike paths though David could possibly have wished for more urban sights.

I am still very uneasy about riding on busy highways (thankfully only had to do so a few times) and into towns.  I always seemed to get left behind at traffic lights … am a lousy bike rider I suppose!

As I didn’t know what weather to expect I took too many clothes and hauling an extra 15 kilos is too much. Will pack more lightly next year.

Though very happy to get off my bike (and not ride it for a year!) I am looking forward to the 2018 stage along the Danube to Vienna.

David writing

Now lovely Ülm is only a memory; we are back in Magagnosc.  Our return was  tiring: extremely hot weather; literally only 2 minutes to load our bikes and bags on our Ülm train, into a car that was packed with bicycles – one in my reserved  place;  at our reserved seats, no air conditioning and it working only slightly in the next car;  in the Munich train station no signage for Platforms 1 and 2 and hidden elevators that our bikes barely squeezed in; forty minutes of standing room only, holding our bikes upright, on the U-Bahn to the airport; severe air turbulence over the Alps; our bikes the last luggage off the plane.  No big deal.

Looking back, many of the surfaces we rode upon – roads and bike paths – were smooth, high speed, and very enjoyable . These could be tarmac or packed sand.   Other surfaces were unpleasant, rough roads of loose stones, where we were jounced as we rode at one-third our normal speed, as well as gravel-tar-slurry surfaced roads that required a third more pedaling to power the same forward distance.

In France and Switzerland, bike routes are few and far between, but they are almost always well-paved, and are navigable with a racing bike.  The bikes we saw in France were usually day riders, alone or in clubs, but also bikers out for a weekend, carrying one or two light-weight panniers.  By contrast,  German bike paths and routes and are ubiquitous, but frequently rougher. Many Germans are using bikes and bike routes for their everyday tasks, and  are almost always riding hybrids with wide tires or city bikes.  We encountered laden tourers, like us, once or twice an hour, sometimes heading in our direction, sometimes westwards.

We saw many e-bikes.  E-bikers don’t have to work hard or dismount on hills, but e-bikes have practical discouragements:  they’re not easily chargeable at hotels; their range is limited; and they cannot be transported in airplanes.

My trip log shows that we rode more miles this year than last.  We covered some 741 kilometers this year, 678 of them by bicycle (416 miles), and only 63 by train.

Since our Atlantic start last year we’ve covered 1,587 kilometers (986 miles), and of these 1,254 by bicycle (780 miles).

This will be the last post for this year.  With luck, next year we will continue to  Vienna.

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